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Peer-Run Supportive Housing for Families
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What does supportive housing for families look like? Housing Options Made Easy, Inc., a consumer-run supportive housing program in Western New York shares their approach with the HRC. HOME’s peer providers know what it is like to be a parent in recovery from mental illness. They help residents in recovery build on the positive aspects of family life and anticipate some of the pitfalls.

Not all who need supportive housing are singles. Many people in recovery from mental illness and/or homelessness have families and sometimes need support in their family roles.

Housing Options Made Easy, Inc. provides peer-run supportive housing to individuals and families who have mental illness in Western New York state. Fifty-one percent of the Board of Directors comprises people who are in recovery from mental illness or are in treatment. The same is true for staff members. All but two staff members receive mental health services.

Supportive housing is designed to promote community-based living in the least restrictive setting possible for people with mental illnesses who also have experienced homelessness. Key components of supportive housing are the provision of an income-based rent subsidy and the delivery of supportive on-site services as needed. Supportive housing provides appropriate housing and flexible support services independent of each other. Because services are flexible, tenants are allowed to remain in the same residence as their needs for supportive services shift.

HOME currently serves 59 families in supportive housing. The staff of 35 peers includes 26 who are parents. Peer providers are aware of what it is like to be a parent in recovery from mental illness. They know that family can help create a motivating purpose in life and provide important connections. Peer providers also recognize the unique challenges that may be likely, such as avoiding treatment because of fear of loss of custody or experiencing prejudice and stigma as a parent with mental illness

HOME’s peer providers help clients build on the positive aspects of family life and anticipate some of the pitfalls. In addition to core services offered to all residents, they offer specific services tailored to families, including:

  • Being role models of successful parents with mental illness
  • Sharing their knowledge and personal experiences as spouses and parents
  • Helping residents identify the needs of their children and their own needs as parents
  • Helping develop a plan for the children if the parent needs to be hospitalized
  • Helping with family reunification
  • Supporting and referring for help on issues of separation, divorce, and domestic violence

Peer providers share that these services help improve self-esteem and create a sense of empowerment including improved quality of life, increased social support, increased family stability, strengthened self advocacy, access to positive consumer role models, improved productive functioning as workers and patents, and access to vocational opportunities.

For example, a single mother with two young girls began to feel more hope for herself and her family after she used her furniture voucher to purchase new beds for her daughters. The girls had been sleeping on makeshift bedding and were ecstatic to have their own new beds. This was the first time that the family had ever owned new furniture. The mother felt a proud sense of ownership and empowerment. She began to take more and more control of her life as she learned that her own actions could shape her future and that of her children.

Another HOME resident dramatically reduced her use of hospitalization and crisis services after moving into supportive housing. Her children were in foster care. With the support and encouragement of a peer advocate who had been through a similar experience, she learned about the child welfare system. She took steps to regain custody of her children. She worked on her own recovery, obtained documentation about her improved and stable functioning, and applied to the court for custody. Now, she knows she can turn to her peer advocate for guidance, encouragement, and support as she faces the typical stresses and challenges of parenting.

HOME’s peer-run services also have resulted in system-level benefits, including cost savings, reduced stigma, and improved overall effectiveness of the local mental health delivery system. Residents in HOME’s supportive housing program have fewer and shorter hospital stays and reduced utilization of crisis services. In addition, HOME is well established and well respected in the local community, and its presence helps to reduce some of the negative attitudes about persons with mental illness.

Want to learn more about Housing Options Made Easy? Check out the archived webcast, “Operating a Peer-Run Supportive Housing Program for Families,” presented by Housing Options Made Easy staff, Joseph Woodward and Laura Bentley.

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